What is a Chase Plane?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Chase planes were used to track the Space Shuttle.
Chase planes were used to track the Space Shuttle.

A chase plane is an aircraft which trails a plane during flight. Chase planes are used in tests of experimental aircraft, and also to track aircraft such as the Space Shuttle and planes used by world leaders for travel. The primary responsibility of a chase plane is to look out for the safety of the aircraft it has been assigned to follow, and to keep the surrounding airspace clear for safety and security reasons.

Chase planes are used to follow and monitor experimental aircraft, such as those operated by NASA, during flight test operations.
Chase planes are used to follow and monitor experimental aircraft, such as those operated by NASA, during flight test operations.

Typically, a chase plane is manned either by a highly experienced pilot, or a test pilot. Skilled pilots are needed to ensure that the chase plane successfully tracks the other aircraft, and to provide constant feedback on the flight. The pilot of a chase plane may also be needed to help guide an aircraft through an emergency landing, using his or her perspective from outside the troubled aircraft to select a good spot to land and help the pilot get there.

Most modern chase planes are equipped with cameras which document the flight of the other aircraft. The pilots of the aircraft involved can communicate directly, which can be critical in an emergency. Chase pilots also interact with the ground, providing information about the status of the flight and alerting people on the ground to any problems which might develop.

In addition to monitoring the aircraft itself, chase planes also keep an eye on the sky. Experimental aircraft are usually given a lot of closed airspace for testing, to ensure safety and protect the security of sensitive information. Chase planes warn off approaching aircraft, hang gliders, and other craft which might drift into the restricted air space. They also look out for navigational hazards which might escape the eyes of the test pilot, allowing the test pilot to focus on the handling of his or her aircraft.

Footage from the cameras in chase planes is often quite interesting. Companies may use chase plane footage in promotional materials and meetings at which the plane is discussed, showing people how the plane performs in the air. If problems develop in flight, the footage will be picked apart to discover the source of the problem, and work to prevent a recurrence in the future. In the event of a fatal accident, chase plane footage is also used by investigators to determine the cause of the accident, and whether or not it could have been avoided.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Chase planes were used to track the Space Shuttle.
      Chase planes were used to track the Space Shuttle.
    • Chase planes are used to follow and monitor experimental aircraft, such as those operated by NASA, during flight test operations.
      Chase planes are used to follow and monitor experimental aircraft, such as those operated by NASA, during flight test operations.